New TT-- new problem

Hello all,
I'm a recent vinyl convert and have just upgraded my analog front to the VPI Scout with the JMW-9t tonearm and the Soundsmith Aida moving iron cartridge. I also use the Boston Audio carbon mat, which I also used with my previous tt. The rest of my system consists of:
Soundsmith MMP3 phono preamp
Rotel RA-1062 integrated amp
Totem Acoustics Hawk speakers
Kimber SilverStreak interconnect from tt to phono amp
Audioquest Copperhead interconnect from phono to main amp
Monster entry level (around $150 if I remember correctly) speaker wires.

My previous tt was the Music Hall MMF-5.1 with a premounted Goldring GL 2200 MM cart. After I got the MH, I stopped listening to my CDs; the sounds of course lacked the dynamics, clarity and lower end tightness of a better setup, but the warmth, lush character of the sound and a lack of any harshness, which would make me want to listen for hours with no fatigue, just blew me away.

Needless to say, after I upgraded to the Scout and the SS cart (plus adding the SilverStreak), I expected to be blown away again given the step-up. No so. Perhaps it is a mental factor of my great expectations, but I'm hearing exaggerated highs and loose end, and the overall sound lacking the involvement I had experienced with the Music Hall and the cheap Goldring cartridge. Another factor is that I am a perfectionist and a novice to a tt set-up and I've been very frustrated with not being 100% sure everything is set up as it should be.

I had the cart mounted by my dealer, who also set up the tonearm, including the VTA. I have since tinkered with the VTA to see whether it makes any difference, but I've yet to hear it. I also tried to correct the azimuth as it looked as if the cart was leaning slightly to one side. (As a side note, the user's manual VPI supplies with the Scout is nothing short of useless. In my opinion, it presupposes analog acumen well beyond a novice, but then states what must be rudimentary knowledge for any more advanced vinyl lover. It makes no mention of the VTA, for God's sake!) As a result mu frustration has grown as I'm not sure whether everything is set up optimally. The tonearm/cartridge match should be good given the effective mass and compliance of the combo and according to the resonance chart Michael Fremer emailed me. Same with the load capacitance of the cart (100 pf) and the preamp (also 100 pf).

I wonder if it is possible that the cart needs to break in; also the Silver Streak are considered rather "hot" and emphasizing high frequencies, at least until they break in. Also, the Scout sits on a rack with metal frame with glass shelves, which doubtless doesn't help. I've ordered a cutting board from Michigan Maple and Isoblocks from Mapleshade Audio, which hopefully will help with the apparent harshness of the setup. That said, I still can't quite get over the fact that a much more inferior tt and cart sounded seemingly warmer right out of the box.

Finally, I wonder whether the upgrade simply exposed the limitations of the rest of my system, and it was ultimately a mistake to replace an $800 package with $2800 worth of analog equipment without upgrading the amplifier at least.

I apologize for the long post, but as fellow audiophiles, I hope you can understand my disappointment and offer any advice or suggestions. Thank you very much!

I upgraded directly from a MMF-5 SE with Goldring whatever (1022 maybe?) to the Scout, with Dynavector 10X5 and the difference was night and day.
I think your cartridge geometry might be off? If your cartridge leans to one side or the other, make sure the counterweight isn't also skewed. The hole in the counterweight is not drilled in the center of the counterweight. That's a very simple error to make. If your dealer used the VPI jig, you might want to try a different protractor, especially the Mint LP. Just my 2 cents.
You need to break in. Take a deep breath. Just enjoy the rig for a few weeks. Stop screwing with it. Let it settle, let yourself adjust. Get to know some of your favorite music better. Breathe, breathe, breathe. You will acclimate and the rig will burn in. After three weeks or more, you can make small adjustments and will hear subtle differences. You can then attack one adjustment at a time. Do a little reading on the net, get a little more knowledge. Analog is not instant, like digital, it takes a bit of time. You will get there, but don't fight the process, you really can't get there any quicker and you will just end up frustrated, which will block your ability to sit back and enjoy our great recorded heritage.
I feel your pain, having been there many times myself with all types of audio gear. Good advice from Viridian, IMO.
With analog source stuff you get bigger differences than
with amps, pre's or digital. Small changes can bring you to heaven or hell. Best way to get comfortable with your choice is to experiment and listen for differences in setup, etc. If it still isn't floating your boat, then play with cartridges--as long as you're using MM's you won't have to spend much to find something that perhaps suits you better. Cartridge changes give you the best bang for the buck since you've already got a worthy table and arm. It's not about absolute "better"--it's about what moves you. If you liked the Goldring, then get another (used) and try it on the new rig. You may like it better, or you may decide by then that the SS is truly superior. The idea is to develop a new "reference" for yourself, whereas now you're still clinging to your old reference.
Good luck. With patience, you'll get there.
I was wondering after reading your post why not remove the mat and listen without it for a couple of weeks. Its possible that the mat and the VPI are not working as well as it did with the lesser Music Hall MMF-5.1. Just a thought with your problem with your VPI at this moment.
Have you tried the phono section in the Rotel just to have a reference?

I would give the cart about 20 hours of break in...if the sound has some promise.

As for the phono IC, I'd only worry about the capacitance it adds to the total load on the cartridge. It sounds like the cartridge might need a slightly higher capacitive load to tame the highs. Try swapping in some other phono ICs you might have around.

Or it may be that this is simply not the cart for you. I went through 4 other cartridges before I found one I wanted to settle down with. I would not spend a lot of time worrying about tweaks and the quality of the rest of your system.
1. It takes hours for the cartridge to break in. At least 40 hours or more. Let the cartridge break in with the tonearm parallel to the record.
2. Set you tracking force to the middle of the recommended weight range while the cartridge is breaking in.
3. Loose the turntable mat. You need to know how the table sounds without making any modifications. All mats I've tried with the scout are not really an improvement.
4. What surface do you have the turntable on? Outside vibrations maybe causing some of your disatisfaction with the unit.
All EXCELLENT posts!
>>12-09-09: Etbaby
2. Set you tracking force to the middle of the recommended weight range while the cartridge is breaking in.<<

Bad advice.

Set your tracking force close to the max recommended VTF. The suspension needs this to fully settle in.
Go to Vinyl Engine and download The AccuTrack Universal Protractor it's a good starting place.
Where is the dealer in all this? Seems there is a problem, most likely set up or maybe some part of the rig is now defective/damaged. In any event, the dealer should be able to directly help you with an on site visit. You spent $2800 for an upgrade, that is missing. Not withstanding your dealer did the mounting etc., assuming it was done correctly is still open question. VPI makes great equipment. There should be a clear, improvement. Lean on the dealer to help solve your issues and let them understanding you will not be back for further upgrades if they do not. Isn't this is what brick/mortar selling is all about?
Thank you all for excellent advice. I will lose the mat, even though it definitely helped with the Music Hall. Also, a maple cutting board from Michigan Maple and Isoblocks from Mapleshade are on their way to help offset my iron and glass rack's poor isolation properties.

As far the phono stage, my Rotel doesn't have one, so the Soundsmith is the only one I have on hand right now. However, I'd think that it should be a good match for a Soundsmith cart, shouldn't it? The capacitive load of the cart is equal to the input load of the preamp at 100 pF plus the cables will add more, but it's my understanding that this should not be a problem unlike when the cart has a higher capacitive load (e.g., 400 pf) than the preamp. In fact, Soundsmith considers carts with 100 and 200 pf, virtually the same. Admittedly, I am rather a novice to analog and my understanding of much of the terminology is still quite basic. Please feel free to educate me if appropriate here, or perhaps point me into the right direction.

Finally, I'd like to make sure that the VTA is set properly, or at least that I know what I'm doing. From the description on musicdirect of the JMW-9T, this upgraded version of the JMW-9 Standard has "a low friction bearing mounted on a solid stainless steel rod with markings to set VTA (Vertical Tracking Angle)." The manual makes no mention of it and I'm not sure what to be looking for. Do they simply mean the threads on the shaft of the rod as you move it up or down? This could hardly be used for precise adjustment. Would getting a test LPs help dial things in? Some of the descriptions of the test LPs sound kind of intimidating to me. And they're expensive!

Again, I sincerely appreciate your input and advice. This forum is indeed an invaluable resource to us all.
Viridian offers valuable advice. Take some time and let things settle in. It's
been my experience that when you change something in the system, the
balance that you are used to hearing has been changed. In your case, from
warmer to brighter. Your new TT set up is probably capable of revealing more
detail than your previous set up, in my system this almost always reveals itself
in the higher frequencies and as a result the warmth you had has been changed.
2 examples, I tried Transparent Ultra MM2 speaker cables to replace my aged
Transparent Ultras from 15 years ago. No doubt the MM2s revealed more of
what was possible, great detail and cleanness - but it was all on the top end
and I gave them back to my dealer because I preferred the sound of my old
cables. The dealer thought I was nuts but I know what I like and don't like.
Second and more to your situation, I have a gyrodec in the main system with
the Michell 250 and a Benz Glider that replaced a Grado Sonata. The Benz is
much more resolving and refined than the Grado but the Grado was very musical in a way the benz is not. My second table is an old Thorens 125 II with the TP16 arm and a 100 dollar grado on it. There are records and recordings I can play on that system that are almost unlistenable in the main
one. In some cases, less is more, but with good recordings on good vinyl the
main system can't be beat. Anyway the other thing I'll pass along came from
the guy I bought my CJ PR 16 LS from and that is that it is most often better
to tune the system you have than to get into the endless cycle of buying new
equipment - unless of course you just like buying different equipment - which is fine too. But to me equipment is a means to an end. You've bought some nice equipment and it'll sound good given time. Before I messed too much with anything I'd talk to your dealer - that's why you paid the premium
to buy from him and not here on Audiogon. Same reason I bought my gyrodec from my dealer as well. He set it up for me because I didn't have the
experience or desire to mess with it, and I wanted it right so I didn't have to think about it. If after some time things don't improve, that's when you start
changing things. And there's no shortage of valuable information here to help
in that regard, but your dealer would be the first guy I'd talk to and give him a crack at checking the set up and if it turns out all is well there see what he'll
do for you on a different cartridge. Happy Listening!
I have no experience with the Soundsmith moving iron carts, but for MM carts, changing the capacitive load, even within the "acceptable" range specified by the manufactuer, can greatly change the frequency response. Apart VTA, azimuth, and alignment, it's one of the few parameters you can change to effect the cartridge sound, all other things being equal.
Viridian and Cjlover--thanks for the great insight; I'll follow your advice as it only makes sense.
As far as going to my dealer, I'd prefer to do as much as I can on my own at this point and learn in the process. They've been great and very accommodating and, the perfectionist that I am, I suspect that I can come off as overly obsessive and difficult and I'd hate to undermine our relationship by questioning, even if impliedly, the quality of their work on the tt set up. Especially if it indeed is simply an adjustment "shock" to a more revealing rig.

Davers--how do you change the capacitive load in such cases? I assume you're thinking of being able to switch the load on your phone section. But mine doesn't have adjustable settings. Is there another way?

I think you received some very good tips here. I would also advise you to call up VPI and talk to Mike. I did when I got my VPI Scout and he told me how to isolate the turntable, how to make sure that the tone arm is straight using an index card. His tips really worked. I wend to home depot and buy some burch plywood and made some shelves and also use some A/C isolation material (available from local A/C parts supplier) and those tweaks worked great at a low cost. One other thing, I tried several cartridges with the VPI Scout: Goldring, Clear Audio, Denon and Dynavector. I like the Dynavector 20XH the best, good match for the Scout.
"Davers--how do you change the capacitive load in such cases? I assume you're thinking of being able to switch the load on your phone section. But mine doesn't have adjustable settings. Is there another way?"

Unfortunately, most phono sections have limited or no adjustments for capacitance. So the only way to change this is by swapping tonearm cables. I hesitate to mention this because I don't like the idea of this being used as an excuse to sell obscenely expensive cables. A pair of cheap molded plastic cables from the junk box should give you an idea if this will have any effect.
All cables have capacitance, whether cheap or expensive, don't they? So it would effectively increase the capacitance of the cable+phono preamp combo vs. cart's load. In this case, preamp has a load of 100 pF plus whatever the internal wiring and tonearm add, perhaps another 50 or more pF. The Aida has a load of 100 pF. But does this mean this is a good match? According to Soundsmith, my preamp should work fine with the Aida.
Yes, all cables have capacitance, but they vary in capacitance per foot and length, and thus total capacitance. Increasing/decreasing total capacitance will change the frequency response of the cart. Maybe this page will help:
There is one thing everyone will agree on... you will get it figured out and it will be great and worth the effort. take it slow and enjoy it. it is a hoot getting more intimate with the music.
Anyone mention leveling the table? Unipivots can lean to the side if not leveled properly. Also need to check VTF (vertical tracking force) and how about a speed strobe to make sure platter spinning properly? And, as for VTA, my 10.5 arm has a small screw which needs to be loosened first before vta can be set. Turnknob spins to no avail unless screw is loosened.

Good luck. That is a major ipgrade ofver the prior turntable. You will dial it in/break it in, etc. Enjoy the experience.
I tried to post this as a separate thread but it was considered a duplicate and flagged by moderators so I have to post it here. Here are the 2 more questions I have for Scout owners and those in the know:
1. The tube of my JMW-9T extends beyond the table's plinth slightly in the back. The overhang appears to be set correctly. Is this common? I wouldn't care much but it's going to affect rather significantly measurements for the cutout in the custom made acrylic cover I wanted to order. Does this have anything to do with this upgraded version of the JMW perhaps?

1. Azimuth setting. Now, my dealer mounted the cartridge and initially set up the overhang, VTA, tracking force, and azimuth. I've since reset the VTA to make sure the tonearm is parallel to the platter, tracking force, which was a little bit on the light side, but I've been having difficulty getting the azimuth right. I'm faced with two scenarios:
i) The wire across the tonearm head is parallel to the record (VPI-suggested test) and the tonearm almost even on the unipivot, but looking at the flat bottom of the cart around the cantilever (Aida has a flat/square bottom), it appears that the cartridge is slightly skewed to one side when playing a record.
ii) Adjusting the ring on the tonearm so that the bottom of the cartridge appears parallel to the record's surface causes the wire test to show that the tonearm head is now NOT parallel to the surface and the tonearm itself visibly skewed when resting on the unipivot.

My questions are: 1) Which scenario is more desirable in the absence of more advanced testing equipment (btw, the cartridge seems to be mounted properly so that the error cannot be corrected by tightening the screws; also I can't hear the difference in sound); 2) Is there a way to verify the azimuth is correct without the electronic equipment (such as Michael Fremer uses in his DVD) Would a test record help determine which scenario is a better one?

Thank you all for your time and advice. It's greatly appreciated.